By Rachel Goldman
As parents, we love our children and naturally want what is best for them. As a psychotherapist in New York City, I hear parents worrying about what is best for their children and their families every day. These concerns often center around about being the best parent possible, and how to achieve a balanced life. It can get tough when there’s so much to juggle, but sometimes as a parent, the best advice is just to keep it simple. A few basics to remember:
1. Lead by Example
One of my primary goals as a parent, and something I stress with my patients, is to lead by example. If you want your children to have good manners, you have to be kind and considerate to others. If you want your kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, they need to see you eating a healthy balanced diet. If you want to get your kids to be more active, show your kids that being active is fun and make it a family event, they have to see you doing it first.
2. Spend Quality Time with Your Family
As parents and New Yorkers we can often find ourselves very busy. It can be a challenge to spend quality time with our children and harder still to spend quality time as a family. As our schedules get busier and our children’s commitments grow, eating dinner as a family or playing a game together can be difficult to coordinate. What I hear time and again from patients and friends is that once we make the commitment to spend time together, it’s easier and easier to find the time to do it. It’s okay to schedule family time (and no it does not count if you are all sitting in the living room looking at your individual iPhones or iPads). Find something that you all enjoy doing and DO IT, and try your best to keep doing it.
3. Let Things Go
It is easy to get into a battle of wills with our children. When we find this pattern happening again and again it is important to take a step back and examine how we got there. It’s hard to think of a person more strong-willed and determined than a young child. My mother still tells me how headstrong I was as a child. When I was 2, apparently I would often refuse to wear a coat in the winter, this meant my poor mother had to walk down 57th Street getting dirty looks and often the unwanted comment from other parents. Now when my daughter is being her most stubborn I know it’s karma. If your child wants to wear a princess crown or a fireman’s hat to school, why fight them. I believe it is important to take a step back and think, ‘Can I live with this’. If the answer ultimately is yes, then leave the fighting for something more important, like getting them to wear their coats in the winter. We want our children to grow up to be independent, strong minded, passionate people and they need to learn how to do this. Children need to feel free to express their wants and ideas, even if it makes us a bit uncomfortable as parents. It’s our job to set limits and make concessions when we can, but ultimately give them the space to express their personalities.
4. You Don’t Have to Be the Perfect Parent
When my daughter was born I obsessed over things being perfect. I insisted on only organic cotton sheets, no plastic toys, I fed her only homemade organic baby food, and anyone coming within a 10 foot radius of her had better first Purell their hands. The list goes on. In the interest of full disclosure, I can still be pretty obsessive about perfection -- I guess I have always been that way -- but I have also learned that sometimes simplicity is best. We want to control for every possible permutation in life and we have to be able to forgive when things aren’t perfect. Whether that means forgiving myself for the plastic Disney princess explosion that has taken place in my house, my husband for introducing our daughter to sausages or my daughter for spilling her milk right after telling her to be careful!
5. Remember to Take Care of Yourself, Too
It can be difficult to strike a balance between taking care of our family and taking care of ourselves. Many of my patients tell me they struggle with feeling that they have no time or energy to do things for themselves. And worst of all, when they do, they feel guilty for taking time away from their kids. I know that guilt, I have been there and still find that from time to time it rears its ugly head. What I know to be true from my patients and my own experience is that by taking time to care for ourselves, it is easier to care for our children. For me this means making exercise a priority (I know I am a better parent when I take the time to run several mornings a week). For others that might be meeting a friend for dinner and letting your spouse/partner take care of dinner, bath and bedtime or even taking an hour to read a good book. Whatever it is that makes you feel rejuvenated and better able to parent, find it and make it a priority.
Rachel Goldman, LCSW, is a Psychotherapist and Psychoanalyst on the Upper East Side in New York City. She has a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work from Fordham University, and also holds a 4-year Post-Masters Certificate in Adult Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy from the National Institute for the Psychotherapies. In her practice she works with Individuals and Couples.
Find Rachel at www.rachelgoldmanlcsw.com